Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 13, 2018
- Answers to media questions:
As part of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s two-day visit to Baku in connection with the capital’s hosting the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Council of Foreign Ministers, he will be received by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. In addition, a meeting between Mr Lavrov and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov will be held. The parties will discuss key aspects of bilateral cooperation, as well as regional and international agenda.
Detailed reference material can be found on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website.
This year, we are marking 100th anniversary of the birth of prominent Russian diplomat Lev Mendelevich, who left a strong impact on the relatively recent history of our foreign policy service. His rich biography reflects the multifaceted history of our country in the 20th century.
On December 17, as part of a series of events held to mark this anniversary, a ceremony to transfer documents and materials from the diplomat’s personal archives will be held. The documents to be handed over by Mendelevich’ family members contain information on his work at the OSCE, the UN and the Foreign Ministry in the 1970-1980s. The ceremony will be attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The documents will be stored in the Russian Federation’s foreign policy archives, and, without a doubt, will be of interest to historians and experts.
On December 21, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine Riyad al-Maliki in Moscow.
The talks will focus on the current situation on the Palestinian-Israeli track, including in the context of preventing the revision of the established international legal framework for the Middle East peace process. The parties plan to consider in detail the issue of restoring Palestinian national unity as soon as possible, including assisting the implementation of the relevant inter-Palestinian agreement signed in October, 2017. They will also exchange views on ways to improve the socio-economic and humanitarian situation of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The officials will also discuss current bilateral issues, including progress in implementing the agreements reached at the third session of the Russian-Palestinian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation held on November 5-7 in Ramallah.
We are closely monitoring this situation. We note the absolutely unacceptable treatment of this Russian citizen by the US authorities.
Maria Butina is a young woman from civil society. She did not engage in anything reprehensible.
Things that the US authorities allow themselves in relation to Ms Butina are too much to take even by a person with special training.
Again, we demand that Washington observe her legal rights and that Ms Butina be released from prison as soon as possible.
I would like to emphasise specifically that the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy to the United States are providing Maria Butina with the necessary support, including moral and psychological support, in this very challenging time for her.
Over the past week, the situation on the ground in Syria has not changed much. Difficult work is underway to implement the provisions of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum on Idlib of September 17, the ultimate goal of which is to eliminate the terrorist presence in that zone at minimal cost to civilians.
Life is gradually returning to normal in the country’s liberated regions. The rebuilding of the destroyed economy is picking up. Special attention is being paid to creating proper conditions for the safe, voluntary and non-discriminatory return of the refugees and IDPs to their homes. Almost every day, over 1,000 Syrians come home from Lebanon and Jordan. The total number of returnees has reached almost 60,000 since the corresponding Russian initiative was launched in July.
We regard our role in the socio-economic reconstruction of Syria as an important element in strengthening Russia-Syria relations. The 11th meeting of the Permanent Russian-Syrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation will take place in Damascus on December 14. The Russian delegation, which includes representatives from industry-specific ministries and departments, is headed by Chair of the Russian section of the intergovernmental commission, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov. Several meetings, including with the top leadership of Syria, will be held on the sidelines of the meeting.
Intensive contacts are underway which seek to advance the political settlement in Syria, to form a Constitutional Committee and then to launch it in Geneva under the decisions taken by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Unfortunately, the increasing positive trends in Syria, which have been secured primarily by the activities of the Astana format guarantor nations, Russia, Iran and Turkey, do not suit everyone. We noted the attempts to take over the Astana format initiative, to thwart Russian-Turkish agreements to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib and to destabilise settlement efforts to accommodate geopolitical goals, which are far from what the Syrians are looking for.
We have taken note of the most recent statement by the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, on the progress of the counter-terrorist operation in Syria. According to McGurk, despite the fact that ISIS currently controls only 1 percent of Syria’s territory, the final victory is still nowhere to be seen as the remaining terrorists are allegedly well trained.
We see statements like this as a desire to justify the illegal US military presence on almost 30 percent of Syrian territory. According to our evaluation, not only is this at odds with the goal of eliminating all international terrorists in Syria, but it has effectively become an obstacle to ever achieving this goal. This concerns, in particular, the US policy to create quasi-state entities in the Euphrates area, which we regard as a destabilising factor, one that impedes the political settlement.
In its foreign policy, Russia is doing its best to make speedy arrangements for sending a second UN humanitarian convoy to Rukban IDP Camp located inside the US-occupied 55-kilometre exclusive zone around the illegal US military base at At-Tanf. Clearly, the 50,000 people living in that camp in the most unsuitable conditions need humanitarian supplies. It is critically important that this time they get the aid rather than the militants, including ISIS. Any other outcome will defeat the purpose of this high humanitarian mission.
We believe that the United States is responsible for compliance with this condition and for ensuring the safety of the UN, the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent Society staff who accompany the convoy. It must provide these guarantees, which should be acceptable to both the above organisations and the Syrian official government, which takes the final decision on conducting this humanitarian operation on their sovereign territory.
Snap parliamentary elections took place in friendly Armenia on December 9.
Russian observers were stationed at polling stations both as part of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission and as part of the CIS mission. Members of the State Duma and the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly monitored the election within the framework of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
According to the observers, the elections were held in compliance with the law and no major violations capable of influencing the outcome of the vote were recorded.
Armenia’s Central Election Commission is expected to announce the official results on December 16.
We favour a constructive dialogue with the new Parliament of Armenia and the Government that will be formed soon in order to continue bolstering cooperation between our countries, including within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
At our previous briefing we talked about preparations by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) for potential military action in Donbas. Unfortunately, we continue to see alarming reports from that region. According to available information, Kiev is plotting an armed provocation on the line of contact, taking advantage of the imposed martial law, including in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, to stage a surge attack in the direction of Mariupol in order to seize the Donetsk-controlled areas along the Sea of Azov and reach the border with Russia. The attack is to be conducted by a massed troop contingent that the AFU has been reinforcing over the past few months, as repeatedly reported by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. From December 1 to 7 alone, OSCE monitors discovered 190 units of heavy weapons prohibited by the Minsk Agreements outside the designated storage facilities.
As Kiev strategists believe, Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko desperately needs a new sharp aggravation of the situation in yet another attempt to stop his steadily falling popularity ratings from declining even further. However, even the potential failure of his reckless scheme might play into his hand. A sharp escalation in tensions in Donbas will give Petr Poroshenko an excuse to extend martial law and cancel the presidential election.
The human rights situation continued to deteriorate in Ukraine. There is ongoing persecution of those who refuse to join the anti-Russia campaign, the mainstream policies and everything else the current Kiev authorities are praising.
Another act of violence against representatives of Russian compatriots in Ukraine was reported the other day. The officers of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Poltava searched the flats of Sergey Provatorov, a member of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and chair of the board of the Russian Commonwealth, and Viktor Shestakov, head of the Russian Community of the Poltava Region. They have been accused of distributing material that is allegedly destabilising the situation in Ukraine and charged with infringement on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The SBU officers have confiscated Provatorov’s Pushkin Medal, which he received from President Vladimir Putin personally. In the opinion of Ukrainian law enforcement, the medal is definitely an instrument for destabilising Ukraine.
A while ago, Ukrainian security service officers stormed into the flat of famous human rights activist Yelena Berezhnaya.
Pressure is mounted on the clergy of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church ahead of the planned meeting of religious schismatics in Kiev. As part of the religious war that is being incited by the ruling regime, searches have been conducted at the premises of Metropolitan Pavel, the abbot of the Kiev Caves Lavra. The clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been summoned for humiliating interrogations at the SBU that lasted hours on end. This has become a routine practice in a state that has pledged commitment to human rights and complained that it had been prevented from doing this before by Russia. Nothing prevents them now from searching the flats of religious leaders and human rights activists. They have improved human rights standards in the country to an unbelievable level.
The notorious Mirotvorets site continues to violate personal and information privacy. Kiev has disregarded the public demand to shut down this site, which the people have come to see as a “death list.” Two Russian diplomats working in Ukraine have been recently added to this list, which has imperilled their safety. We urge the Ukrainian authorities to honour the provisions of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations on the protection of diplomatic and consular staff by the receiving country.
I would like to say once again that we not only issue warnings. We have the capacity to respond to such acts. And we will do so unless measures are taken to protect the security of the Russian diplomatic missions and Russian diplomats. Kiev should know that they have gone too far. They will not get away with what is happening to the Russian diplomatic missions and Russian diplomats.
It must be said in this connection that the so-called information booklets published by the SBU to demonstrate Russia’s alleged involvement in the destabilisation of Ukraine are a sham. As far as we can tell, it was a deliberate act and it is a deliberate falsification.
The other day we learned about the death of Russian citizen Valery Ivanov under unclear circumstances in Penitentiary No. 40 in the city of Drohobych, Lvov Region. Ivanov was found dead in a political and social education room, which does not rule out the possibility of violence. We have sent a request to the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough and objective investigation into the causes of his death. We will closely monitor the process.
Overall, there are clear political undertones of the developments in Ukraine. Kiev is using the contrived anti-Russia hysteria to curry favour with the nationalist electorate, intimidate Russian speakers and drive them underground, as well as demonstrating activity, even though the goal of this activity is unclear. Those who refuse to toe the line following such “preventive treatment” are arrested, as in the case of Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, or killed, as they have killed famous Ukrainian writer Oles Buzina and other Ukrainian dissenters.
The recent statements made by the Ukrainian authorities regarding their commitment to democratic European values sound especially cynical against the backdrop of the ongoing excesses. But their Western curators pretend not to see this and even express their support. The flagrant violations of human rights in the fields of language, ethnicity and religion are rapidly pushing Ukraine towards a red line.
To follow up on the humanitarian theme, it was reported recently that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine dismissed a draft law submitted by a number of deputies to make amendments to the scandalous education law. The amendments were drafted in line with recommendations by the Venice Commission.
Let me remind you that back in December 2017 the Commission advised in its findings that Kiev should amend Article 7 of the law due to its discriminatory provisions regarding some ethnic minorities’ languages, including Russian, and to delay implementation of the article to 2023.
By voting down the draft amendments, the Kiev authorities have deliberately ignored the Commission’s recommendations in order to please the advocates of the “Ukrainisation” of the country and total extermination of other ethnicities’ languages from public and political life in Ukraine. It is sad that our European partners once again “swallowed” this act of apparent neglect by Kiev of its obligations in the Council of Europe.
We call on international organisations and human rights groups to issue an appropriate response to Kiev’s discriminatory policy against legal interests and human rights, primarily those relating to education and language. History proves that the forceful imposition of a monoethnic and monolingual state leads to quite tragic consequences.
The Russian Foreign Ministry website has posted the Statement of the Russian Federation on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. I would like to draw your attention to the document.
The Russian Federation supports the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
This compromise document encompasses many aspects of international migration including the humanitarian component, issues of development, human rights and combatting crime.
Russia expects the Global Compact to become a basis for long-term comprehensive international cooperation aimed, among other things, at establishing channels for legal migration and mechanisms to effectively monitor migratory processes, designing instruments for countering illegal migration including readmission, as well as fighting crime in the migration sphere.
Of course, the Global Compact is not a legally binding document and does not impose legal and financial obligations on the countries which join it.
However, the Global Compact sets a certain trajectory in the development of contemporary views and approaches to the issues of international migration, and shapes a universal approach to this problem.
Just last night we received the strange news from Austria that Austrian police officers came to the training camp of the Russian national team in Hochfilzen and presented notices addressed to several leading Russian biathletes accusing them of doping.
To be honest, I cannot quite understand what is resurfacing in Europe and what kind of traditions are emerging there to barge into a training camp at night (on the eve of important sporting events) and create a strange, destabilising and oppressive atmosphere of threats and mistrust when trying to explain and hand something over. It seems that the answer is that the police officers rushed to work as soon as the documents to be presented had been signed. When were the notices issued? They are dated December 11. I wonder where Austrian police officers were for two days. They left their precinct on December 11 to arrive at the Russian training camp on Wednesday night; what or who delayed them?
That night Russian Ambassador to Austria Dmitry Lyubinsky described the measures taken by the embassy to clarify the circumstances and provide the necessary support to our biathletes.
I would like to note that our diplomatic mission has received no official requests related this situation. The Russian Foreign Ministry has not been informed about it either.
Let me draw your attention to the fact that our diplomats are already in touch with their Austrian colleagues.
It is important to note that the organisers of the 2017 Biathlon World Championships have made no claims against Russian athletes, the same as now.
As of today, we cannot recreate the full picture because we do not have complete information, so it is too early to discuss what is happening or the political character of events. If information comes out about some political component to the story or attempts to put Russian biathletes under some sort of psychological pressure, our reaction will be swift.
This November, the Slovakian authorities expelled a Russian military diplomat.
In accordance with well-established, common diplomatic practice, such unfriendly actions are always responded to with reciprocal measures, so a Slovakian military diplomat in the Russian Federation was declared persona non grata and must leave the country in two days. The Slovakian ambassador to Russia received a corresponding note on December 11. I would like to stress that, unlike our colleagues, we act in accordance with the rules and laws of diplomatic ethics. First, we inform our partners and then publish our contacts and information, not the other way around.
We regret Slovakia’s unfriendly action that is at odds with the traditions of our bilateral relations.
We have noted the recent statement made by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo about placing Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” What is it with people at the US State Department? It is difficult to understand. Are there any professionals left there? What we have recently heard from top American diplomats is a whole array of non-professional statements. I am addressing my American colleagues, given that all this was stated publicly: Could they clarify what severe violations of religious freedom they have detected in the Russian Federation?
Commenting on his boss’s move, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback told reporters at a briefing about Washington’s intention to apply sanctions against our country in the future due to certain violations of religious freedoms. Are you serious? I would like to ask a question: Could you by any chance be confusing Russia for Ukraine while writing your speeches? It seems that the material was about Ukraine, but they changed the word to Russia at the last moment.
I would like to remind you that the ongoing events in Ukraine around the canonical Orthodox Church, the persecution of its priests and laity, and constant threats of physical violence against them do not seem to concern the United States in the slightest, not even Samuel Brownback. Moreover, he personally is intervening in the religious affairs of Ukraine, imposing an autocephaly alien to millions of its believers, and in every way encouraging the schismatic moves of Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew.
We understand what is behind the actions of Samuel Brownback and the entire area of American diplomacy that deals with these matters: it is an attempt to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine spiritually, and even better play them off against each other, now on religious grounds. Anyone trying to resist will be either interrogated and imprisoned by the security service, or come under American sanctions.
This is a brief overview of the absurdity of American foreign policy. Honestly, this has already gone too far.
We have to return again and again to the topic of Russia being accused of meddling in the American elections. Insinuations to the effect have been spread in the US for the third year running, and all this time we have been trying to collect some proof confirming these claims first from the previous Washington administration and now from the current one. Each time we stressed that we are ready to answer to any claims, to conduct a professional conversation, discuss any concerns the American colleagues may have in this context.
However, no real proof has been forthcoming. We were either told that “the Russian special services must know everything themselves” or were referred to some material circulating in the media and social networks which cannot be taken seriously. I would like to recap some of the American arguments. My favourite one is the claim made on October 20 that the chief accountant of the Federal News Agency Yelena Khusyaynova was implicated in influencing the elections to the US Congress through social networks. I would have thought that if an accountant can influence US Congress elections why pay all the special services (CIA, FBI, NSA). What a woman, she counts money and at the same time elects the Congress.
The lack of real evidence did not deter the American authorities from using false pretexts for further unfriendly moves against Russia. We were not surprised when, after the November 6 Congress elections, the State Department sent us Internet material claiming that it confirmed Russia’s attempts to influence the voting.
The send material contained reprints of pages from the “usaira.ru” website and “@IRA_USA1” Twitter account which, several days ahead of the elections, carried messages purporting to come from the above-mentioned Petersburg Internet Research Agency to the Americans claiming that the Russians “control your elections whether you vote or not.” Attached was an article on the same subject published by “thinkprogress.org” resource on November 6 which seeks to link the above-mentioned website with Azimut LLC company which figures in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation. Even a schoolchild can understand that all this is a fanciful and brazen fake.
Even so, we have taken a close look at the material handed over to us by the US State Department and conducted a cyber search. The study of the “usaira.ru” domain meta-data has established that it was first registered in the early 2017 and until November 2018 was owned by a Russian-language Internet shop selling electrical goods (electric kettles, heaters). On November 2, i.e. right on the eve of the elections, its domain name was bought for a term of one year by unknown users who indicated Azimut LLC company in the registration data section.
Then, using the above domain name, they executed the technological design of the website that supposedly belonged to the Internet Research Agency.
No evidence has been found of the participation of Russian citizens and organisations, including Azimut LLC, in creating this website. It’s like in the popular Stierlitz joke which may ring no bells to the Americans but is known to our people.
Since no verification of the buyer is required in registering a domain we can only guess who needed this anti-Russian provocation and why. We have noted, however, that the fake was spread through the “thinkprogress.org” resource affiliated with Washington’s Centre for American Progress financed by George Soros and closely linked with the leadership of the US Democratic Party.
I have but one question. Before giving us all this stuff could you have checked it with your special services? Secretary of State Michael Pompeo recently wrote to us about corruption and taxpayers’ money. Why don’t you count your taxpayers’ money and ask your special services what they are doing if American diplomats deliver such rubbish to Russian officials at a high level. Moreover, this is rubbish in terms of accusing Russia, but it is anything but rubbish from the point of view of those who prepared this fake.
I would be interested to know the reaction of President Trump if he is told this story. It would be a good idea to show Donald Trump the source of this fake and all the fake news to which he refers so frequently.
The roots of this story, and indeed of the whole slander campaign around “Russian meddling,” which has long become “a theatre of the absurd,” are inside the United States and the American internal politics. It only remains to recommend to the Washington strategists to put an end to this farce, stop misleading their own citizens and the world public opinion and be more professional in performing their duties.
I would like to say that the results of this Internet investigation will shortly be sent to Washington via official channels.
We have taken note of the recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian devoted to the November 25 border incident involving Ukrainian navy vessels in Russian territorial waters. The article cites the words of the European Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King which cannot be described as anything other than brazen disinformation. The British representative claims that Russia had made lengthy and careful preparations for “the seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov” spreading in advance false charges against Ukraine. Julian King attributes the reports that Ukraine had “infected the Sea of Azov with cholera” and that it had been trying “to ship a nuclear bomb to Crimea” to the sinister hand of Moscow, constantly haunting the West, and dismisses the reports as “a disinformation campaign.”
I am afraid I have to disappoint the European official. As someone in charge of security issues, he ought to have paid attention to the alarming reports coming out of Ukraine about the worsening sanitary-epidemiological situation in the country, especially after 2014. This is due to the inability of “the government of victors” to ensure the healthcare system functions properly because of a lack of money arising from, among other things, Kiev’s expenditure on “the war with Russia.”
Last summer, the Ukrainian media reported the detection of cholera bacterium in samples of water taken in Berdyansk, Melitopol and in the Nikolayev Region. Earlier, Kiev reluctantly admitted flare-ups of tuberculosis, measles and other infectious diseases in Ukraine, information which incidentally has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation.
I would like to ask The Guardian, considering that it lent its pages to this fake report, even if not bylined by its own journalists, to make some kind of disclaimer. I have named all the alternative sources of accurate information. It would be a good idea if the journalists themselves prepared the material. I don’t think we should publish any denials. It is up to the newspaper itself to do so.
As for the allegations concerning “a nuclear bomb in Crimea,” let us leave it to the conscience of Julius King who is probably woebegone in face of the early prospect of parting with the EU and his current job. It is hard to understand what prompted the man to publish such a fake report. I understand that from his point of view Russia is to blame for everything, but this is going too far, especially in an interview with such an authoritative newspaper.
Vilnius recently announced that it has entered the names of 20 Russian citizens in its blacklist in connection with the Kerch Strait incident. Without waiting for its American and European partners who are still studying the situation, Lithuania has become the only country to decide of its own accord, to mete out (as always misdirected) “punishment” to Russia for the gross provocation of the Kiev regime in the Black Sea.
We have repeatedly stressed that no anti-Russian actions by the Lithuanian authorities will go without an appropriate response on our part. In this case, the response will be tit-for-tat.
December 10 marked the 141st anniversary of the Russian victory in one of the decisive battles of the Russo-Turkish liberation war of 1877-1878, the Battle of Plevna (now Pleven). The capture of that city became a symbol of the heroism and self-sacrifice of the Russian soldiers and Bulgarian militia who fought for the freedom of the Balkan peoples.
Each year, a remembrance ceremony for the heroes of Plevna is held at the memorial chapel in Moscow. The ceremony on December 10 was attended by Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Russia Atanas Krastin, representatives of Russian government and non-governmental organisations. Similar events to mark the 141st anniversary of the liberation of Plevna were held in Bulgaria in the presence of the Russian Ambassador to Sofia, Anatoly Makarov.
We are convinced that a respectful and careful attitude to common history is the historical foundation of the relations between Russia and Bulgaria.
Incidentally, I have lately been receiving messages from Russian social network users, with one woman asking me to convey to the Bulgarian Ambassador to Russia words of sincere gratitude from her and her family for the preservation of the monuments I have mentioned.
A year ago, we presented a special edition of The Crimean Magazine in English (http://journalcrimea.ru/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/MID.pdf), so that you and our foreign partners would be able to obtain first-hand information, without go-betweens, about life on the peninsula. We have decided to continue this tradition. Today’s special edition of The Crimean Magazine deals with the situation with regional media outlets.
I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that the magazine’s editorial office employs Crimean journalists who lived in the region before 2014 and who continue to live there today, rather than people from mainland Russia who moved to Crimea after 2014. They have prepared a survey on the status of Crimean media outlets, and you can read it. We will also send this affordable magazine to international organisations. You can also find all the contacts here.
We read very many strange news stories about Crimean media outlets in so-called surveys by human rights organisations. Those who write them have never been to Crimea, and they have never even spoken on the phone with Crimean residents and journalists. Now, they can read this publication and contact Crimean residents direct.
At the previous briefing, there was a question about Russia’s response to the submission of a draft resolution to the Parliament of Estonia on a possible refusal to ratify Russian-Estonian border treaties. Here is what I would like to say.
To the best of our knowledge, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia has already taken a similar initiative, but the Parliament did not support it. We will continue to monitor the current situation.
Our approach towards the process of ratifying border treaties remains the same: To promote this process, it is necessary to guarantee a normal non-confrontational atmosphere with regard to each other. In addition, the Estonian side should fulfil its share of the ratification process without any political additions, ploys or reservations.
During the previous briefing, I was asked to comment on Russia’s perception of OPEC after the withdrawal of Qatar from this Organisation.
It is common knowledge that Russia actively cooperates with OPEC countries in the bilateral format and also under OPEC’s Declaration of Cooperation with non-OPEC producers. Since the Declaration’s inception two years ago, the sides have achieved tangible results: global commercial oil reserves have decreased considerably, the critical disproportion between supply and demand has been reduced, and average prices for 2018 were much higher than during previous crisis years.
As an active member of the Organisation, Qatar made a substantial contribution to the success of the Vienna agreement and played an important role in the work of the Joint OPEC-non-OPEC Ministerial Monitoring Committee. We praise these efforts, and we would like to thank Qatar for this.
We are confident that the decision of Qatar’s leaders to withdraw from OPEC will not impair Russia’s intensive cooperation with partners from among oil-producing countries. The parties to the Declaration of Cooperation are determined to continue their joint efforts aimed at improving the oil market and making it more stable and predictable. Participants in the December 7 OPEC-non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting agreed to extend the Declaration by another six months and set new targets for reduced oil output.
On the whole, Russia maintains sufficiently intensive mutually beneficial energy cooperation with Qatar, and we are confident that this will continue to expand successfully. We work effectively within the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.
Question No. 1: When is Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov scheduled to meet with Japanese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Takeo Mori under the new mechanism?
Maria Zakharova: Deadlines for such consultations have not been set yet. The sides continue to coordinate issues linked with launching initial dialogue on the question of the peace treaty in a renewed format.
Question No. 2: Is the dismantling of US military bases in Japan under the January 27, 1960 Memorandum of the Government of the Soviet Union to the Government of Japan a key pre-condition for signing the peace treaty?
Maria Zakharova: It goes without saying that the entire range of issues, including security issues, will be discussed during the negotiating process. At the same time, we consider it necessary to take into account all available diplomatic correspondence, including the January 27 and February 24, 1960 memorandums of the Government of the Soviet Union.
Question No. 3: What are the prospects for signing the peace treaty by the summer of 2019?
Maria Zakharova: There are no specific agreements on deadlines for resolving the peace treaty issue. Moreover, the sides have not yet launched talks under a mechanism that has been coordinated by the leaders. Obviously, we will have to do a lot to strengthen mutual understanding and trust and to expand practical cooperation for the purpose of imparting a new quality to Russian-Japanese relations that would make it possible to address the most complicated bilateral issues.
Question No. 4: Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Taro Kono visit Russia on December 27?
Maria Zakharova: So far, I cannot say anything specific about the deadline, venue or format of the visit. We will certainly inform you as soon as this meeting is included in Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s schedule, be it participation in talks, a meeting on the sidelines of any specific event or a visit.
Question: At the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Milan, a joint statement was adopted by the heads of delegations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. As is known, at the same time, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan met on the sidelines of the CIS informal summit. In Moscow’s opinion, can this be regarded as a dialogue between the parties to the conflict?
The statement included the co-chair countries’ call to take concrete measures to prepare the peoples of the two countries for peace. What specific steps is Moscow expecting?
Will Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discuss this issue with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev today?
Maria Zakharova: There is definitely a dialogue. No official statement is required here, because following the adoption of the documents that you mentioned and the contacts that have taken place, it is obvious that there is an ongoing dialogue. We presume that Russia, as a co-chair, will actively assist the positive dynamics aimed at achieving the main goal.
It is necessary to develop a series of specific steps, which the sides should carry out with the assistance from the co-chairs.
The Narorno-Karabakh settlement is always a focus during Sergey Lavrov's trips to the region, when he visits Baku and Yerevan.
Question: Can you comment on the European Parliament’s resolution that calls for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled? Do you think similar steps may be taken with regard to the extension of the TurkStream pipeline across Europe?
Maria Zakharova: It is not the first time that European politicians have tried to block peaceful, beneficial and promising energy projects. I am sure you know that many of these people, who claim to represent public opinion, are in the pay of certain lobby groups. Worse still, they are paid not only by lobby groups, which is normal practice for European democracies, but also by special bodies. Because speaking up against energy cooperation and its diversification and modernisation is insanity for Europe, which needs energy so much.
As for what the MEPs wanted to say and why, this is a big question. If they are thinking about global warming, this is a good story, but when will it happen? If they are not counting on global warming, what are they counting on? Some countries have shut down nuclear power stations and are calling to stop importing Russian gas. What will they use then, firewood? But you know where they can get firewood, too.
Whose interests do these people represent? It is not true that they are acting in the best interests of the people. The people need heating, and they want it at a fair price. As a responsible supplier who has faithfully honoured its obligations for the past decades, Russia is ready to continue to deliver quality energy products at fair prices that are consistent with the market situation.
Another aspect is the politicisation of energy cooperation. The statements such as the one you mentioned have nothing to do with the market, the economy or energy requirements. This is politics pure and simple. Wasn’t it the MEPs who used to tell not only Russia but the whole world (they think, for some reason, that they are in a position to lecture the world because they represent the European Parliament) that politicians must not influence the economy and energy cooperation? That used to be their rallying cry for years – energy and the economy free from politics. I would like to remind them that the free market and democratic development are based on the principle that politics must not play a key role in the economy. Why do they think in this particular case that they can enforce their political rules on everyone and set economic rules based on politics?
As for whether similar statements can be adopted in the future, and not just in the cases you mentioned, yes, this is highly likely. The reasons are the same. These people represent not their electorate but political forces, and sometimes even security services, which are using them in their own interests and for attaining their own goals. These people represent those who do not want Europe to be stable, prosperous and independent. But we want Europe to be all of these things, because we want to sell our energy, which only prosperous clients interested in stable cooperation can buy.
When they say that Russia wants to influence Europe through its energy deliveries, this is not true. We have had all kinds of situations with our European colleagues, including sanctions, threats, cold spells and severed relations, for example, with NATO, when dialogue exists only formally but is actually suspended for years on end. Did this have any effect on Russian energy deliveries to Europe? No, never. These are not just words but a fact that has been recognised by European businesses and ordinary people, who know that their homes are kept warm every winter without any additional conditions.
Who has been trying to sour our relations all this time? Regrettably, it is Ukraine, though not the Ukraine as a country but Ukrainian politicians who, goaded by their American curators, used blackmail in the sphere of energy cooperation and presented this as Russia’s pressure. In fact, they were trying to undermine the decades-long energy ties between Russia and Europe.
I would like to remind you what was said at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with European businesses in Moscow. It was not Sergey Lavrov but European business people who said that everything has changed in Russia, including the political system, but Soviet/Russian energy cooperation with Europe remained unaffected, although the Soviet Union was building socialism and communism, while Russia opted for democracy and a free market. Russia has always honoured its commitments on time and at the highest possible level. But some forces have always wanted to prevent this.
There is also competition. Much is being said about the delivery of shale gas by LNG tankers, which is very expensive but would bring huge revenues to certain quarters. But nobody wants to speak about the safety, stability and, judging by the prices, apparent unprofitability of such projects.
Question: Given that, to our knowledge, the Armenian Foreign Ministry and its policies will remain the same, does Russia intend to intensify the dialogue in the Nagorno-Karabakh process and come up with any new proposals, possibly based on the Madrid Principles?
Maria Zakharova: Why don’t you ask me about an expansion of the dialogue in all areas? I think we need a broader approach. We have great potential for developing bilateral relations with the new leadership (although, according to your information, which I don’t personally have, the leadership will remain the same as before). We should increase our interaction not just on one track, but we should also initiate and maintain, if possible, the dynamics that previously existed in our relations, that have developed over the years, to the benefit of the peoples of both countries. I think Armenia knows how much political will and how many resources Russia has invested in the development of this interaction.
We are always interested in seeing our neighbours and close nations and countries prosper. There is an obvious benefit for all of us. So we need to maintain the dynamics of expanding and deepening interaction in the current areas and also perhaps open new areas of cooperation.
Question: What is your opinion of the decision of the Time magazine to name a group of journalists, and not an individual, its Person of the Year for 2018?
Maria Zakharova: There’s no need to be so blinkered. I understand that there are world trends, but only for as long as you play into them. As long as you – as journalists who work in hotspots, carry out real journalistic investigations and achieve fantastic results – care who is on the cover of Time and who Time wrote about, they will continue to engage in this manipulation, the compilation of facts, the shaping of public opinion for certain purposes. There’s no other way to describe it.
As for the objectivity of selecting the Person of the Year or the Most Influential People of the Year, which is so popular in Britain, it is absolutely unclear what criteria are used. It’s ridiculous and it is hard to understand what they reflect. Obviously, there is some kind of process for producing these pieces. You realise perfectly well that there are journalists whose words, deeds and lives not only push world journalism forward, but really change the world. Not from the point of view of negatively impacting the profession, as Arkady Babchenko did, but from the point of view of changing people’s ideas about what is happening behind the curtain of world affairs and international relations. There was not a line or space for a small photograph left for these people. Therefore, it seems to me that it’s all a game. But it only matters if you play it. The selection process and procedures are unclear, but the goals and tasks are clear.
Is it by chance that on virtually the same day that Arkady Babchenko was put on a certain Time list, he also filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights? This coincidence indeed looks odd. Perhaps, that was why he was included on the list? Filling such lawsuits after what Arkady Babchenko did, actually crippling world journalism with his provocative actions, was doomed to fail – no one would have taken it seriously. But time has passed and his name has been laundered through Time magazine – a nice time for a lawsuit. Now everyone remembers Arkady Babchenko not as the man who covered himself in pig’s blood and made everyone think he was dead, and was then resurrected, but as a person from Time magazine.
No one even bothered to ask what kind of a list it is or what kind of Person of the Year he is or what is it that those people influenced. Why are they getting so much attention? And why were others left off, for example, Kirill Vyshinsky? Not a word was said about him despite the fact that he is a real prisoner and that he has been behind bars for more than half a year solely due to his professional activity. It’s all hypocritical and sad.
Question: What is the current situation when it comes to Russians trying to obtain US visas?
Maria Zakharova: It has not changed. Different visa-issue deadlines are stipulated in Moscow and other Russian cities. The US side has complicated the matter concerning US visas to Russian citizens to the greatest possible extent.
Question: On December 10, the United States excluded Russia from a list of countries that are not recommended for visits. Can this step be regarded as positive in Russian-US relations?
Maria Zakharova: All I can say is that this absurd story is now over. It is hard to say what the US side wanted to formalise by introducing these recommendations. Perhaps this was linked with the 2018 FIFA World Cup, so that no one would be able to attend this major event. Perhaps now that the World Cup is over, these recommendations have become irrelevant. These things are not subject to serious analysis.
When we organise press tours and invite journalists, including to the Chechen Republic and the city of Grozny (we regularly organise such familiarisation tours to various Russian regions hosting major events, forums and boasting achievements of interest to foreign audiences), I always hear Western journalists and many people following in the wake of Western concepts that it is dangerous there. I remember the 1990s and the early 2000s when hundreds of Western journalists used to visit Chechnya each month. At that time, a counter-terrorist operation was conducted there, and it was really dangerous to simply walk the streets and to stay in the republic. Our press service established a special division to assist journalists leaving for the counter-terrorist operation’s zone. They were issued with bullet-proof vests, helmets and special communications systems. At that time, this was really dangerous, but nothing stopped hundreds of Western reporters from going there.
This was dangerous not only because of the ongoing hostilities and because people could get killed or wounded there. It was also dangerous because the terrorists mostly profited by abducting journalists because such abductions caused an immediate public outcry. The publication where the abducted journalist worked immediately focused on the matter. Multi-million dollar ransoms were paid. This amounted to a real slave trade. Despite these developments, the journalists still went there.
If you recall, the counter-terrorist operation’s press centre was established in a building on Zubovsky Boulevard, now belonging to the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. To make things safer for journalists, regulations for visiting Chechnya were drafted in the run-up to the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, and the journalist accreditation procedure was modified. This was done only once since the Government of the Russian Federation passed its Resolution No. 1055 of September 13, 1994 that regulates the accreditation of correspondents of foreign media outlets in Russia and their stay here. At that time, nothing stopped anyone from going there. It’s quite the other way around.
Today, Chechnya has become a prosperous territory, and Grozny is a thriving city with schools, religious institutions, universities, theatres, cinemas, etc. And now, it is dangerous to visit this region all of a sudden. This is absurd. They are writing nonsense and saying that the region should not be visited because it is dangerous. This is not true.
Question: I would like to ask a question specifying Russian-Japanese relations. What is meant by “diplomatic correspondence?” Apart from the January 27, 1960 Memorandum of the Government of the Soviet Union to the Government of Japan, does it include the January 27 and February 24, 1960 memorandums of the Government of the Soviet Union?
Maria Zakharova: I will simplify my answer and make it as specific as possible.
First, it goes without saying that the documents mentioned by you are the legal framework for the current talks. Second, they will be taken into consideration during the full-fledged negotiating process. I have even enumerated them in line with your specific question. This implies diplomatic correspondence, including the January 27 and February 24, 1960 memorandums of the Government of the Soviet Union. And, third, experts are now busy working with these documents and specifying their interpretations.
Question: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a military operation against Kurdish paramilitary units in Syria. What is Russia’s position on this issue? Did the Turkish side coordinate this operation with Russia and Iran?
Maria Zakharova: We maintain contacts with our Turkish colleagues on all matters linked with the situation in Syria and the organisation of counter-terrorist operations there. Of course, you should ask military experts about the details.
Question: Could you comment on media reports about Washington’s possible recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights?
Maria Zakharova: As you know, the Russian Federation voices a principled position that the Golan Heights belong to the Syrian Arab Republic. This is confirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 497 of 1981. Our assessment of Israel’s illegal decision to extend its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, under the 1981 fundamental law, remains the same. Changing the status of the Golan Heights, in circumvention of the UN Security Council, directly violates UN decisions.
Russia is interested in maintaining tranquility in the Golan Heights, as well as security and the ceasefire regime between Syria and Israel. Complete compliance with the 1974 agreement on disengaging Israeli and Syrian forces guarantees this status. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin stated this on July 16, 2018 after his talks with President of the United States Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Question: After the Russian-Turkish-French-German summit in Istanbul, it was decided to launch the work of the Commission on the New Syrian Constitution this December. Are the sides making any headway in this direction? Does Russia believe that Kurdish paramilitary units are terrorist groups?
Maria Zakharova: We maintain contacts on all matters regarding the regional situation with the Turkish side. You know our principled assessments. They have not changed in the last few days. Turkey has its own perception of this issue. We have repeatedly noted that Russian and Turkish positions do not coincide on all issues. At the same time, we have similar positions on many other issues. We try to make our positions closer in areas where we cannot find identical answers. This is normal diplomatic practice.
Regarding the constitution, this work is now underway. Today, Russian special representatives maintain highly intensive contacts in the region. I believe that some progress will be made in the near future, and we will be able to provide you with additional information on this.
Question: On December 11, the media reported that the Defence Ministry of the Czech Republic was dissatisfied with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s note that members of the inter-governmental commission on military burial sites would not hold their meeting in 2018, and that Russia was in no hurry to set up plaques in memory of Czech legionaries. In November, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic said it was necessary to step up media countermeasures against Russia. Is this pressure part of a “hybrid war” waged by the Czech Republic against Russia?
Maria Zakharova: Let’s divide these issues. I will contact our experts and specify the deadlines for holding the Commission’s meetings. To avoid all-out premature assessments, we should look into the matter.
As for the political statements about an alleged Russian threat, we commented on them immediately. We consider them groundless, and they do not reflect the potential of our bilateral relations. Nor do they take into account the relevant provisions of bilateral documents.
Question: Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin said in an interview that any decision on the delimitation of Serbia’s borders with Kosovo, if taken, must be formalised in a UN Security Council resolution. Does this mean that Russia would not protest against a resolution that will determine the situation in Kosovo in the future? What should be the essence of such a resolution, and on what conditions would Russia vote for it? Will it take the Serbian public opinion into account?
Maria Zakharova: Knowing Mr Chepurin and the subject of delineation, I am sure he said more than that. As for a resolution, he most likely spoke about the work ahead, the talks that need to be held, the interests of Serbia and the Serbian people, as well as the history of the problem.
And now I would like to add a few details. So, we are speaking about a new resolution, because Russia’s position is that at this point UN Security Council Resolution 1244 remains effective with regard to this territory and this issue. It has not been cancelled. Therefore, any changes regarding this can be made exclusively with the agreement of Belgrade and only in the interests of the Serbian people. It is our position of principle. Any changes, if they are made, must be followed by the amendment of international law. Therefore, I am sure that Ambassador Chepurin did not talk solely about a UN Security Council resolution, but also about a process that would entail, inter alia, changes to the international legal framework.
Any UN Security Council resolutions, not only those on the Kosovo settlement but any such resolutions are adopted by a vote held following consultations and preparations.
Question: First of all, I would like to thank you on behalf of our readers for liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule. Secondly, you recently mentioned global power brokers. I would like to ask in this connection if the notions of honour, morals and dignity are still valid in global politics and diplomacy.
Maria Zakharova: Yes, certainly, for otherwise the world would have long been thrown into the abyss of endless wars and conflicts. As long as there are legal relations, negotiations and universal rules and norms, the notions you have mentioned remain valid.
Question: Yesterday Russia marked Constitution Day. Does Clause 4 of Article 15 of the Russian Constitution, which deals with the supremacy of international law over national legislation, remain topical in modern realities?
Maria Zakharova: I am not in a position to judge the topicality of constitutional articles. As part of the executive branch, we honour the obligations imposed on us by the Constitution. I think you should take your question to the expert community and political analysts, who know more about such subjects. This is the only answer I can give as a representative of a body that is part of the executive branch.
Question: What is your opinion of the current stage of trade and economic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan in light of the recent official meetings and the session of the Azerbaijani-Russian intergovernmental commission, which will be held tomorrow and where a number of documents will be signed?
Maria Zakharova: Our bilateral relations are well developed and have a positive future in various spheres, not only politics. The dynamics of our relations is very positive.
Question: The US Congress yesterday approved a non-binding resolution calling on the EU to stop Nord Stream 2 and to adopt new sanctions. Can you comment on this?
Maria Zakharova: This would suit those who don’t want Europe to be stable and prosperous, to be warm in winter and to have normal relations with other countries that are part of Europe, or with non-EU members in the case of the European Union. We have heard not only calls but also threats from US officials and members of the US legislative and executive branches. US President Donald Trump has issued statements threatening or warning Germany against energy cooperation with Russia. All this has a clear goal. This is dirty rivalry on the global scale. It has long moved beyond the limits of normal relations between financial and economic competitors. They are using methods that are prohibited in the Western countries. Back in the past, they advocated the development of global economic relations, economic freedom and the creation of all kinds of zones and regulatory organisations with as many members as possible. They invented the rules which they are violating now, and they are using an aggressive vocabulary against those countries that want to promote and have the experience of promoting normal mutually beneficial relations based on mutual respect, including in energy.
Question: ABC reported yesterday that Maria Butina agreed to cooperate with the investigation. What could you say about it?
Maria Zakharova: Regarding Maria Butina, I would like to say that we are watching the events. It is dangerous to rely on media leaks, especially where it concerns a person who is kept in custody like a political prisoner and subjected to physical and psychological experiments. I am talking about physical experiments because if you are allowed to telephone and talk to your family only late at night, if you are searched every hour, if you have endless wake-ups at night and in general are kept in such tough conditions without having a clear understanding of who you could threaten or harm on the outside, who you can communicate with and what can have a negative effect on the course of the investigation that has failed to state specific charges apart from a couple of generalities – it means real psychological pressure accompanied by physical components used to drive a person to a certain frame of mind.
We are rendering Maria Butina all the necessary support. We will support all the decisions aimed at securing her release that she will take together with her attorneys and family members, considering that she is a political prisoner and that all that is happening around her has nothing to do with justice or an investigation but is purely political pressure and blackmail using a wide range of tools. We have been supporting her from the very beginning and we are doing it also since we are aware that she is not an experienced person, a servicewoman or a professional human rights fighter who rushed to the barricades for the umpteenth time and regards this situation as normal, but a young woman who was attacked so viciously by Western democracy.
Question: I would like to ask you about human rights violations in Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have declared martial law, and terrifying footage of forcible mobilisation, including weeping mothers, and boys who are being forced into the army are showing up on the internet. At the same time, President Petr Poroshenko is making very aggressive statements in English on a Western television channel. Is there any international mechanism for recalling a high-ranking state official who threatens the security of his country and the international community from his presidential post? Can the international community, including Russia, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the Ukrainian President, all the more so as it is common knowledge that the Kiev regime came to power illegally?
Maria Zakharova: I don’t think there are any special mechanisms. This could only be accomplished through political processes and diplomatic practice. There are different mechanisms used in domestic state policies. History knows relevant examples.
I don’t believe it is necessary for us to comment on this specific situation. Ukraine is to hold an election in the near future. We see the conditions under which this election will be held, and we see what the authorities are doing to boost their falling ratings. This is obvious, everyone can see this. But the people of Ukraine will be able to make their choice even under these conditions.
Question: Can you comment on a report about the sentencing of Michael Cohen, the former lawyer for US President Donald Trump?
Maria Zakharova: According to media reports, a member of US President Donald Trump’s inner circle has been sentenced, another one has been indicted, and the activities of someone else are being investigated, and some other people are being interrogated as well. Against this backdrop, it is surprising to read statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is calling some regimes corrupt. All we can say is look in the mirror.
This is a purely US domestic affair. We realise that it is the result of an extremely tough political divide between political parties. Does US history suggest similar developments in the past? These situations happen on a regular basis and all the time. Does this reflect the concept of democracy? Yes, this reflects the US democratic system. On the one hand, the US political system is declared a democracy in terms of outward appearance. On the other hand, these fierce political clashes where nothing is held back, serve to describe this state system.
Take any decade and any election, and you will find many similar incidents. Statements and impeachment discussions have always hinged on violations of the law. This has happened many times. But the situation has never taken such a turn; it has never been so heated and has never assumed such a global scale. In the past, they were always able to contain the situation. The current infighting is so fierce, and domestic resources have hit such an all-time low that it’s acquiring global proportions which far transcend the boundaries of regional policies and now encompass the entire world. This reflects domestic US crises to a certain extent. This is their own business, but, considering the fact that this all-out political battle affects global relations, we have a right to comment on it.